Democratic House members held a caucus June 2 at the request of Gov. Joseph Ely to consider the Ways and Means Committee’s tax program, the Boston Globe reported (June 3, 1932, pp. 1, 17).
Rep. Birmingham read a communication from Ely to the House Democratic caucus urging it to support the committee’s tax program. However, the caucus voted not to accept the program in its entirety.
The committee’s tax program included an additional $2 poll tax, salary reductions for state and county employees, and a 10 percent supplement on income taxes.
Eli also said in the communication that if the caucus could not support the plan, it should formulate its own tax program.
The caucus then took up individual items in the committee's plan. The caucus voted down the provision for a state and county employee pay reduction, but it approved a 10 percent increase on personal income, corporation, and public utility taxes.
The caucus voted in favor of a more sweeping proposal to increase by 10 percent all taxes and license fees imposed by the state, which would automatically take in the 10 percent tax increase on the personal income, corporate, and public utility taxes.
In his communication, Ely expressed opposition to a proposal by Rep. Pratt to put a tax on stocks and bonds and other forms of intangibles. Rep. Pratt had proposed a bill that would have provided for a $20 million state bond issue to assist cities and towns in public welfare relief as a substitute for the committee’s tax plan.
The caucus appointed a committee of seven to make a report to Gov Ely about its recommendations. Committee members included Reps. Birmingham, Charles H. Slowey of Lowell, Patrick Moore of Pittsfield, John V. Mahoney of Boston, Timothy J. Cronin of Cambridge, Joseph P. White of Boston, Paul A. Dever of Cambridge, and Frank E. Rafter of Salem.
The alternative tax program proposed by the Democratic caucus included taking $2 million from the gasoline tax receipts or highway fund to provide public welfare relief to the cities and towns, imposing a 10 percent tax on the total amount of all income taxes paid, a 10 percent tax on all fees collected by the state, and an excise tax of 1 cent on every 10 cigarettes.
On petition of Samuel H. Borofsky and others, Rep. Birmingham filed a bill Dec. 23 that would regulate chain stores, the Springfield Republican reported (Dec. 24, 1930, p. 17).
Under the bill, individuals or corporations with more than one place of retail business would be required to serve notice of establishment of additional stores to the secretary of state and obtain licenses to do business.
The bill provided a scale of fees for licenses depending on the size of the city. A license for a town of fewer than 5,000 people would cost $750, while a license for a city of more than 500,000 people would cost $2,700.
Violators of the license provisions would be fined $100 or serve 60 days in jail, or both, for each violation. The penalties would be imposed on owners and operators.
Three-quarters of the fines collected would be given to municipalities, while one-quarter would go to the state.
Rep. Birmingham proposed a cigarette tax to raise revenue for the old-age assistance act enacted the previous year, the Boston Herald reported May 8, 1931, pp. 1, 15.
In the spring of 1931, the legislature was considering ways to pay for the old-age assistance act.
In a May 6 speech in Worcester, Gov. Joseph Ely attacked the Boston Herald for suggesting that he supported the idea of a cigarette tax.
Rep. Horace T. Cahill, a Republican representative from Braintree, alleged that Ely actually supported the tax in his speech, despite the governor’s criticism of the newspaper.
Cahill quoted a part of Ely’s speech, which appeared to support the idea of a cigarette tax: “It has been proposed that a tax be placed on cigarettes and tobacco, but the man who manufactures and sells tobacco and even those of us who smoke it rather resent, for what reason I do not understand, the imposition of a tax upon this article of unnecessary consumption.”
The House ways and means committee was considering means to raise revenue to implement old-age assistance act. The committee was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the cigarette tax proposal the following week.
Ely ignited a storm of protests during his Worcester speech when he charged that the old-age assistance act was a Republican ploy to get Gov. Frank Allen re-elected.
Rep. John V. Mahoney, a Democratic representative from Boston, criticized the governor for his remarks.
“I object strenuously to Gov. Ely’s procedure in calling the old-age assistance act a Republican measure. None worked harder for its success than I did and no one ever has found my record tainted with Republicanism….I resent the Governor’s action in attempting to rob us of the credit which is due all the Democrats who voted for it.”
Cahill asserted that the old-age assistance act was a “Democratic baby.”
“In one form or another, it has had the support of Mr. Ely’s party ever since most of these now serving in the Legislature can remember. Year after year the Democrats have gone up to the State House with it.”
On a separate issue, Birmingham carried the protests of his Democratic colleagues to Ely over his remarks that he was considering vetoing a bill to abolish physical exams for the classified civil service labor lists in cities, the newspaper reported.
Birmingham also conveyed to the governor the threat that a veto would be overridden by the legislature.
Rep. Birmingham opposed any attempt to increase taxes on low wage earners as part of a 10 percent state tax increase proposed by Boston Mayor James Michael Curley and half-heartedly endorsed by Gov. Joseph Ely, the Boston Herald reported March 7, 1931, p. 1.
Curley recommended the tax increase to pay for public welfare expenditures, old age assistance, expansion in state activities, and Ely’s public works program. Boston would get $1 million from the increase, while other cities and towns would get rest of the money based on their last income tax returns.
Curley directed Corporation Counsel Samuel Silverman to work with Tax Commissioner Henry Long in drafting a tax bill that would apply the tax increase retroactively to the 1930 tax year.
The mayor dismissed arguments that the increase was unconstitutional, citing a similar tax imposed on foreign and domestic corporations in 1918 to pay for the war bonus and the income tax increase in 1923 to pay for national bank tax reimbursements.
Curley threatened to increase the city’s real estate tax if he didn’t get the 10 percent state income tax hike.
Even though much of the Curley tax increase would go to the cities and towns, local officials were not sure such an increase in the tax burden was advisable, according to a canvass by the Boston Herald.
The newspaper spoke to state legislators, mayors, and selectmen, who acknowledged the need for additional funds but feared the political backlash such a tax increase might create.
Business leaders were virtually united in their opposition to the mayor’s tax proposal, arguing that it would burden tax payers and slow any economic recovery.